Friday Night Lite

Far away from big cities, big stadiums and big offensive lines, six-man football keeps the game pure

So McAdams resigns himself to preaching realistic goals: weekly improvement, minimizing mistakes and striving to play beyond the first half (a goal it has accomplished in two of its three games this season). "Last week," McAdams says, "when we scored 25 points [in a 70-25 loss to Walnut Springs], I felt it was a major step forward.

"It's hard, but it's fun," he says. "I can't deny that it isn't difficult to take the beatings we do, but the pluses far outweigh the minuses."

If there is any criticism of the young coach or his less-than-gifted players, it is difficult to find. Parents Michelle and Tracy Joslin left Duncanville in 1999, fed up with the crime and hectic pace of the Dallas area. They purchased a 400-acre cattle ranch outside Penelope and enrolled their two boys in the rural school. Morgan, now a senior, and Mason, a sophomore, enjoy being a part of the team.

Downtown Penelope is a ghost town--literally. Town life centers around the school, where Weston Walton helps Cindy Watson get ready for volleyball practice (top right), and Penelope High School cheerleaders (above left) prepare a "spirit" sign for homecoming. Enthusiasm runs high during an afternoon pep rally (center), and Bonnie Jones proudly wears her homecoming mum (far right). For the players on the school's 11-member football team, a pregame prayer is traditional (bottom).
Downtown Penelope is a ghost town--literally. Town life centers around the school, where Weston Walton helps Cindy Watson get ready for volleyball practice (top right), and Penelope High School cheerleaders (above left) prepare a "spirit" sign for homecoming. Enthusiasm runs high during an afternoon pep rally (center), and Bonnie Jones proudly wears her homecoming mum (far right). For the players on the school's 11-member football team, a pregame prayer is traditional (bottom).
Homecoming Queen Natalie Matula (above, far right) joins classmates at a fence-rail vantage point to cheer on the Wolverines. Then, at halftime, she and other members of her court slog their way onto the field barefoot--it was so muddy, the high heels were left behind.
Homecoming Queen Natalie Matula (above, far right) joins classmates at a fence-rail vantage point to cheer on the Wolverines. Then, at halftime, she and other members of her court slog their way onto the field barefoot--it was so muddy, the high heels were left behind.

"The kids here," Michelle says, "are really close. And they think the world of Coach McAdams." It also pleases her that in Penelope High's history there has never been an incident involving drugs or firearms on the school's campus. She puts the current state of the infant Wolverines into perspective: "Ask any of these boys to drive a tractor or do some welding or load cattle into a trailer, and they know exactly how to get it done. But until recently, football was something completely foreign to them. But they're learning...and trying."

One of the goals McAdams sets for his players is to "not get 45-pointed." Unfortunately, the Wolverines don't achieve their objective of completing four quarters very often. The week before, the game was called early in the fourth after a Walnut Springs touchdown extended the margin to 70-25. (Which is quite an improvement over how things were back in 1958, when Venus High scored 110 points against the Wolverines in the first half.)

In the four seasons the Wolverines have competed, not a single college coach has dropped by to watch a practice or attend a game. Johnson and McAdams are, however, quick to point out that Mario Herrera, the center on last year's 0-10 team and one of the star performers in school secretary Gloria Walton's one-act play troupe, did receive a drama scholarship to Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, Texas.


An elderly farmer who hasn't missed a Wolverines game since the school's return to football leans against the fence surrounding the field, looking up into the crowded stands on the home side of the field. Mums, some as big as dinner plates, are worn by mothers and girlfriends alike. Several grade-school girls are dressed in uniforms similar to those worn by the six Penelope cheerleaders.

"This," the farmer says after several minutes of silence, "is the most I've ever seen at a game. I'd say 250, maybe 300."

Either guess exceeds the town's population.

Six-man football began in 1934, the brainchild of a Chester, Nebraska, educator and coach named Stephen Epler, who recognized a void in the fall programs of small rural schools. Searching for a solution, he went to the drawing board and designed a football game that would not require the customary 11 players. A game could be played, he theorized, with three linemen instead of seven, and three backs instead of four.

As word of his new concept spread, so did interest. States throughout the Midwest adopted Epler's plan, and in 1938, Rodney Kidd, then athletic director of the University Interscholastic League, governing body of high school sports, wrote Epler for information on the game.

Kidd then contacted coaches at two small Texas schools, Prairie Lea and Martindale, and asked that they study the rules, have their kids practice for a while and then put on a spring exhibition game for UIL officials.

He and other UIL officials liked what they saw, and the following fall the formerly non-football schools Dripping Springs, Harrold and Oklaunion and the two teams that had staged the spring exhibition were celebrating their first district championships.

By halftime, diminutive Penelope halfback Michael Lozano has scored a touchdown, but Cranfills Gap--bigger, faster and clearly more talented--has built a 25-6 lead. The oncoming defeat, however, is put aside briefly as candidates for homecoming queen, ignoring the fact that the muddy field is certain to soil the long dresses they're wearing, are escorted to midfield by members of the team.

Smiling nervously, the girls pose for one of those yearbook moments that will be remembered long after the score.

Six-man football's popularity reached a national peak in 1953 when 30,000 teams across the country competed in the sport. And while consolidation of rural schools ultimately turned the sport into nothing more than scrapbook memories for many states, it continues to thrive not only in Texas but in New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and throughout Canada. Today, in fact, it is no longer sole property of small towns. The growth of urban private schools and the desire to provide their students with athletic opportunities have given rise to 74 new six-man football teams in Texas alone.

And while the list of six-man graduates who've gone on to make names for themselves on a higher athletic plane is admittedly short, there have been exceptions. Jack Pardee, once the rage of little Christoval High, went on to earn national recognition as a fullback for Paul "Bear" Bryant at Texas A&M in the '50s, then enjoyed a lengthy pro career with the Washington Redskins. And more recently, a gifted Amherst running back named DeWayne Miles, who scored 40 touchdowns in the six-man playoffs alone, enjoyed a record-setting career at Canyon's West Texas A&M in the late '90s before playing briefly in the NFL. It should also be pointed out that Survivor star Colby Donaldson got his first taste of competition as No. 88 on Christoval's six-man Cougars, and Dallas photographer Laura Wilson, mother of well-known actors Owen and Luke, has a picture book, Grit and Glory: Six-Man Football, due out next month from Bright Sky Press. Wilson spent a season visiting small-town games, gathering black-and-white images.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...